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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Latest version of Internet Explorer worth test driving

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver March 29-April 4, 2011 issue #1118 High Tech Office column

Many people browse the web using whatever is pre-installed on their computer.

For Windows users, that means double-clicking the blue letter “e” icon that represents Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). Many others, however, have considered IE slow and insecure. They prefer to seek out and install alternative web browsers like Mozilla Firefox, or lately, Google’s Chrome. Worldwide IE’s market share dropped below 50% for the first time last fall.

Microsoft hopes to change those opinions; Internet Explorer 9, released in mid-March, stands a good chance of doing that.

IE9 is a complete redesign of Microsoft’s browser. It has a clean, minimalist interface designed to keep the focus on online content. Performance has been turbocharged, surpassing even previous speed champion Chrome – at least by some measures. Support for hardware acceleration further boosts speed, making this perhaps the best Windows browser to use on graphics-intensive sites.

It’s also the first Internet Explorer version to largely comply with web design standards, though this may prove to be a mixed blessing. A new tracking protection feature promises improved privacy protection. Like Chrome, the address box does double duty as a search box; you can type search terms into it when you don’t know the address. Also new: site pinning lets Windows 7 users pull a website icon down to the taskbar, where it will sit just as if it were an application, though many users may never discover this handy feature.

The 61% of Windows users who are still running XP won’t have a chance to discover any of IE9’s features. It’s only available (from www.beautyoftheweb.ca) to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users. IE9’s hardware acceleration won’t work with XP. Users of 64-bit Vista or Win 7 versions will discover that the 32-bit version of IE9 is faster and provides better compatibility with browser add-ons; installing the 64-bit IE9 version also installs the 32-bit version (labelled just ‘Internet Explorer 9’ in the start menu).

IE9’s improved adherence to web standards means that, ironically, it’s less compatible with sites optimized for the quirks of earlier Internet Explorer versions. Many business sites, in particular, were designed specifically with XP’s once widely used IE6 in mind.
With the release of IE9, Microsoft is hoping the 12% of computer users who have stuck with the old Internet Explorer 6 will finally move on. That’s good advice: IE6 is slow, insecure and has forced developers to include non-standard design tricks.
These hard-core IE6 users tend to fit into one of two categories:

•those (most often outside North America and Europe) running pirated copies of Windows XP; and

•users in large organizations whose websites and internal network pages have been designed with that browser in mind.
Neither group is going to be quick to move to IE9, in part because of its lack of support for Windows XP. (Ironically, XP users may be best off moving to a non-Microsoft web browser.)

Internet Explorer isn’t the only browser with a recent new release. Google’s Chrome recently released version 10, though because Chrome updates itself quietly in the background, users may not have noticed. Chrome has been the fastest-growing browser of late, with use rising about 1% each month. Mozilla Firefox’s version 4.0 was finally released near the end of March.

Despite all these new and improved web browsers, increasingly web traffic is bypassing browsers entirely. Typically, smartphone and tablet users, for instance, access content on YouTube, Google Maps, the CBC and more through dedicated apps, rather than their gadget’s browser. And even on personal computers, dedicated applications are becoming commonly used for social networking sites like Twitter and other online sites.

Nevertheless, take a look at Internet Explorer 9 whether you’re using an older IE version or one of that browser’s alternatives – at least if you’re running Windows Vista or 7.

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